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There’s all sorts of slightly peculiar stuff going on in this chapter. It starts with what seems like a good ol’ ADoF action sequence – perhaps even the logical climax to the Cal and Holt fight that we were denied previously – and instead transitions into a bit of speculative sci-fi world building as we witness how Red handles crime, and then we get to witness the wonders of super advanced medical technology.
It’s meant to be a bit breathless, a bit discombobulating, and slightly out of control. Throughout the chapter it should have a serious feeling of oh shit, and an uncertainty of exactly how bad all this is going to get. It’s an attempt to capture that frenzied period between something bad happening and whatever the resolution turns out to be.
What this chapter actually ends up being about is Cal losing his ability to shift form. That has always been what’s defined the story, dimension-hopping aside. It’s Cal’s ability to change form which triggers Kay’s adventure in the first place, and which has kept the Powers That Be in such a panic. Of course, he retains his core dimension-hopping ability, so it’s not like I’m tearing up what A Day of Faces is about, but it’s still an important moment.
The reason it comes here is twofold. The first is that it raises the stakes, and makes us realise that we’re bearing down on the climax. It’s a signal that this story is not going to be going on for much longer, and that we’re not messing around anymore. Secondly, it focuses the themes and the plot: it’s me making it quite clear that this story is not going to culminate in an all-out action finale with Cal transforming into all kinds of forms and kicking ass. That time has come and gone. The finale is going to be about something else.
Signposting this kind of thing ahead of time feels like an important move. Arcs 1, 2 and (to a lesser extent) 3 all ended with a bang, so it’d be reasonable to expect an action-based finale the whole book. Not doing that is completely fine, unless everybody is expecting it – because that would be a fast route to disappointment.
Whether this tactic worked or not I have no idea, of course…